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Jack Wilson

Bridges Hearings Reek of Frame-Up

Whatever Your Opinion of Bridges, You Must Recognize
the “Trial” as an Attack on Labor

(May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 18, 5 May 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SAN FRANCISCO – The malodorous smell of frame-up so reminiscent of the Moscow trials gets into one’s nostrils quickly when sitting in on the Harry Bridges deportation hearings.

Take the testimony of Maurice Cannalongo, a member of the firemen’s union, who was on the stand the day we attended. He’s a former member of the Communist Party and not very happy about his new role of stool pigeon.

The red-baiting, labor-hating government lawyer, Del Guercio, questioned Cannalongo about CP fraction meetings which Bridges is supposed to have attended (as though that was a crime!).

Cannalongo just couldn’t remember. So Del Guercio introduced three signed statements of Cannalongo’s which the FBI had obtained from him.

“Read these,” the government prosecutor ordered. Cannalongo looked up helplessly. “Who me? I can’t.” “But you signed them?” Del Guercio asked. A feeble “yes” came as an answer. “And they’re correct?” “Yes and no!” Cannalongo muttered. (He’s supposed to be helping the government.)

The statements said, in essence:

  1. Cannalongo was at a top fraction meeting of the Communist Party in March 1937 in Seattle along with Bridges and others who are named;
  2. The first statement was wrong in the date. It was May, and not March;
  3. And the first statement was wrong in saying a certain Deitrich was there. He wasn’t.

Del Guercio then questioned Cannalongo to try to prove Bridges was a member of the party because he was there. But Cannalongo ducked saying yes.

When the government prosecutor tried to question Cannalongo on why he modified his first and major statement, Cannalongo just wouldn’t answer.

Prompted by FBI

So the defense lawyers started to question him. They tried to get him first to admit that the FBI had grabbed him, gently threatened him, and finally wrote the statements he signed after some discussion.

This made the government lawyers furious. They didn’t want the FBI methods exposed. The technique of “Now look, brother, we represent the government, we got the goods on you boys, so you might as well come across, cause it’ll be easier on you. Someone else is telling, anyhow!”

Then Cannalongo was asked why he signed a second and third statement modifying the first statement. Was it his idea? Not exactly, he said.

Did the FBI call him up and tell him about the mistake? Not exactly.

Did he call the FBI up and tell them his previous statement had some major errors in it? No, he did not.

How did he happen to remember the supposed meeting took place in May and not March? Maybe because it was that the discussion was on the CIO affiliation business. But wouldn’t that be true if the meeting look place either in March or May? Yes.

Did the FBI remind him of his mistake? “I wouldn’t put it that way!”

And the same kind of evasion look place in the questioning on the attendance of Deitrich.

It was plain to everyone in the court room that no half-way unprejudiced jury would ever vote against Bridges on that kind of testimony.

With a gallant disdain for formalities and even half-way credible witnesses, the FBI brought in the next man, testifying that Bridges was a Communist!

Civil Liberties Violated

The whole thing, in a nutshell, as everyone out here realizes, is that Bridges is being sandbagged, with no regard whatsoever for anything except a pretense of legal formality.

The government lawyers show the most insulting contempt possible for the workers. And the gray-haired old judge takes the whole hearing as a sort of glorified traffic case in a police court.

You watch every basic civil liberty being violated in this august federal court, room with the American flag overhead, the whole show appearing as mocking laughter at those who believe in American “democracy.”

In the court room audience you can see the representatives of the patriotic societies gloat. “He ought to be burned,” they tell you, with a sadistic gleam in their eye worthy of a Gestapo agent.

In the city, many AFL fakers gloat because they see Bridges’ deportation as a chance to get at the CIO which they hate more than they do the employers

On the waterfront, Bridges has plenty of support. Even Cannalongo, the stoolpigeon, said he thought “Bridges is being persecuted because the employers are sore at him.”

Bridges signed a lousy two year pact for the longshoremen with the employers partly to offset the heat generated against him. Business Week says some employers are rooting for him because they fear his deportation will bring in a new and more radical leadership.

The CIO understands this hearing, however, for what it essentially is. “Organized labor cannot stand idly by and witness the persecution of any of its leaders or members,” Phillip Murray, chairman of the CIO recently declared in setting up a special committee to help defend Bridges.

The Bridges case is essentially an attack on the CIO movement and the labor movement generally, because it takes away the right of the rank and file to elect and dispose by its own choosing its official leadership. It’s part of a national smear campaign against the labor movement. The San Francisco newspapers distort the hearings atrociously to whip up the public against the CIO. If Bridges should be found guilty and deported a hard blow will have been struck at labor and the unions. The bosses will follow this victory with innumerable assaults on labor.

This attack is facilitated by the stupidities and crimes of the Stalinists within the labor movement. Many workers are so embittered against the Stalinist policies that they fail to see the class lines in the case. Disagreements with the Stalinist policies belong within the union movement. It’s the job of the rank and file to oust them whenever their policies run counter to the interests of the union.

But it is not the job of any good union man to join up with the professional pay-triots and lynch the Stalinists or anyone else while Old Glory waves in shame.

A feeling of revulsion comes over you at the Bridges hearings when you watch the parade of stool-pigeons, human scum and professional labor-baiters doing their part to smash the labor movement and make America safe for Wall Street’s profits.

Against this array, every union man should stand shoulder to shoulder with Bridges in fighting against his deportation. Taking care of the “Commies” is strictly a family affair within the union. And the only real methods of fighting against them are honesty, loyalty, devotion and democracy within the union movement as an indispensable part of a militant program of fighting the bosses to the bitter end.


P.S. – How ironic! Bridges is getting it in the neck from the FBI by those very GPU methods which he defended so strongly in the union movement.

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